Labour has recorded its first poll lead since Boris Johnson became prime minister, marking an extraordinary changes in fortunes for the two main parties.
Keir Starmer’s party now has a three-point lead over the Conservatives, according to the latest Opinium poll for the Observer. In a result that will stir more unrest among Tory MPs over the performance of the prime minister, the poll put Labour on 42% support, with the Conservatives on 39%.
It is the first Labour lead since early July 2019 – the end of Theresa May’s doomed premiership, when the Lib Dems and the Brexit Party were polling strongly. Labour then recorded a two-point lead.
This represents a rapid reversal. The Conservatives recorded a 26-point lead only six months ago, in the early stages of the Covid-19 lockdown. Approval of government handling of coronavirus then stood at two-thirds (65%) of the public. The latest poll shows only 30% now approve.
Starmer now leads Johnson by four points on who would make the best prime minister. More than half of voters (55%) believe he is ready to be prime minister, and 40% believe Labour is ready to form the next government.
The underlying polling results suggest that government failings have contributed to Labour’s lead. Starmer’s approval ratings are very similar to those recorded in an Opinium poll a fortnight ago, but Johnson’s approval ratings have dropped since then from -6% to -12%, his lowest since the pandemic began.
Half of voters (50%) disapprove of how the government has handled the crisis, and 57% disapprove of how it has handled testing. The public backs the new tough policies announced last week, although 60% think more measures will be needed to stop a second wave.
The Lib Dem party has seen no bounce from the announcement of new leader Ed Davey – it is on 5%, down one point from a fortnight ago.
Adam Drummond, associate director of Opinium, said: “The Labour Party has finally caught up with its leader in polling. While this is the first time since Boris Johnson became prime minister that Labour has been ahead of the Conservatives on vote share, Keir Starmer has had better approval ratings (both raw and net) than the prime minister for some time and the two leaders have tended to draw on the question of who would be the better prime minister. Now the Labour leader has pulled ahead on that measure as well.
“While there is strong public support for the new Covid restrictions announced by the government earlier this week, they have not yet resulted in the sort of boost to the government’s approval rating that the initial lockdown measures brought in March, suggesting that the ‘rally around the flag’ effect was a one-off.”
He said the result gave “some credence to those who argue that perceptions of the party leaders are a leading indicator, and that where approval ratings go, vote share follows”. He added: “While Labour spent most of the 2010-15 parliament with a lead over the Conservatives, Ed Miliband generally trailed David Cameron on approval ratings and preferred prime minister. This suggests that Labour’s vote share under Starmer is a little more solid – and is why the other really interesting set of numbers to watch over the next few months will be [chancellor] Rishi Sunak’s.”